‘Sir, if you don’t want to talk, you don’t have to.’
Ryan let out a long breath. ‘Actually, I would find it a relief, Death has been the only one I have been able to converse with-’
This seemed to shock Jones. ‘Sir, that isn’t a statement that many could say so lightly.’
‘Many haven’t had the need,’ he said at last. It was the only true thing he could say – he couldn’t say that he disliked speaking with Death, or that he didn’t appreciate her advice, just that the circumstances required were some of the worst moments of his life.
‘All I saw was what the drones showed me,’ Jones said. ‘There was a big badda-boom which your recruit seems to be responsible for, physics followed suit and-’
Ryan twisted at the glib was his tech was talking about the death of his recruit. ‘If we had been in system territory,’ he said, ‘I would have- The Parkers would have been able to do something. Even if it meant partial augmentation, they would have been-’ He balled his hands into fists. ‘Going against my Duty isn’t my first instinct, Agent, but she died, I had to do something.’
‘So you made a wish.’
‘I made a wish,’ Ryan said, finally admitting what he had done. Four small words. Four words that could seal his fate, and Stef’s fate. Four words that would be enough to have him executed.
Jones gave him a wry smile. ‘You’re still waiting for the other shoe, aren’t you?’
‘Would you be insulted if I said yes?’
‘A little, but it is what I expected,’ Jones said. ‘This is actually going a lot better than I expected. In most of my projected scenarios, things were…less civil. I can’t do more than I’m doing to prove that I’m trustworthy, sir, but ultimately, it’s up to you.’
Ryan stared at Jones for a solid minute. The tech was young – so young that he hadn’t even met Reynolds, but in that time he’d proven his ability over and over. If it had been Samuels, he would have trusted the agent right away. Reynolds he would have known the minute he’d made the wish. Even Taylor…from before, anyway, he would have been comfortable with. The Taylor that had come to his wedding. The Taylor that had held his son.
Jones was still so unknown to him – the man was capable and confident, so he didn’t need any oversight to run his department. Ryan knew very little about the agent.
He knew Jones’ attitude matched that of his recruits – excitement over games and the imagined fantastical as much as over real magic.
He knew Jones frequently identified as a woman, something that was common enough among agents that it barely registered unless Jones presented as Andrea at a meeting, or appeared in his HUD as such.
And he knew that he barely knew Jones at all.
Ryan attempted to view the situation objectively. The evidence was there. All the evidence needed to have him recycled, re-educated or reset. Blackmail material enough to-
‘What do you want in return, Jones?’
Jones smiled. ‘I was wondering when you were going to ask that.’ The tech steepled his fingers. ‘CE3K, at minimum, we’ll discuss it after that.’
Jones swiveled in his chair and picked up a flyer. ‘Movie night on Saturday. Close Encounters. It’s a classic that I’m assuming you haven’t seen. You should really interact with your recruits more, and frankly my kids aren’t a bunch of tools like the majority of your department.’
Ryan stared at the blond man for a long moment. ‘You’re willing to- To- So that I’ll sit in on one of your movie nights?’
‘I’ve been asking for twenty years, there doesn’t seem to be another way to get you to come.’ Jones smiled. ‘I’m asking for nothing, Director, except…for you to maybe finally trust me?’
‘It’s hard,’ Ryan said at last. ‘It’s hard for me to let people in.’
‘Except for a smelly hacker girl that was here three days.’
The word sounded light, but he could hear the admonishment in Jones’ voice, the…pain. He looked away, ashamed. ‘Stef’s different. There’s- There’s-’
[Quiet.] Jones said quickly. He turned in his chair. ‘Come in Jane, the door’s open.’
‘Jane’s here?’ Ryan said.
‘I certainly am,’ she said as she walked into the lab. ‘I sent you an email before.’
‘I didn’t read it,’ Ryan admitted. ‘I’m still catching up on my paperwork from the past few days.’
Jane smiled, and Ryan got the impression she was attempting to unsettle him, but then turned to Jones. ‘How long will you be with him? I can’t take him seriously when he’s shirtless.’
‘You can have him in a few minutes, ma’am.’
Jane nodded. ‘I’ll be waiting in your office, Agent.’ She turned, and left the lab before he had a chance to respond.
‘I thought you read your emails, sir, you usually do.’
‘I take it she’s not here on holiday.’
‘Someone took issue with Stef getting killed and has asked for an investigation. She’s here to do a peer review.’
Ryan narrowed his eyes. ‘None of my recruits even noticed, ex-’ O’Connor. O’Connor had taken issue with his reaction. Peer reviews could mean many things, could have many outcomes: and many of the harsher options looked suspiciously similar to the punishments for treason.
Agency punishments, unfortunately, tended towards the harsher end of the scale.
The Agency didn’t know about Stef, and he could still be facing execution over her “death”.
All because of an ex-Solstice who wouldn’t know Duty if it shot him in the face.
[table id=15 /]